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DPR of Korea faces 'dire' food shortage unless donors step in, UN official warns

DPR of Korea faces 'dire' food shortage unless donors step in, UN official warns

Masood Haider
The top United Nations relief official in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) today warned that the country's food and humanitarian situation is rapidly becoming critical - a situation that could worsen as countries hold back pledges because of concerns over the lack of accounting for aid deliveries.

Masood Haider told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is cutting 3 million people from its food assistance rolls, which had covered 9 million. Of the 6 million still receiving aid, 4 million are children, while the remainder includes the elderly, women and other vulnerable persons. By next year, he added, the number of those WFP would be able to assist would have to be further reduced to 1.5 million in the absence of more donor commitments.

Mr. Haider, who just returned from a trip to the DPRK, said that only one month’s supply for next year has been pledged because donors are concerned about the lack of an adequate means of monitoring humanitarian assistance in the country. In addition, aid workers there never had unimpeded access to all areas, while the country’s current political situation is also thought to be hampering the relief effort.

Noting that in the past, major donors had kept politics out of humanitarian assistance, Mr. Haider voiced hope that this principle would continue to apply because those being helped by the UN are not the cause of the current political difficulties. "The people that the UN assists really need continued assistance," he said. "We hope very much, we trust that this essential separation will be maintained."

The consequences of the current shortfall in food supply would not be apparent now because the harvest is going on, even though the cutbacks had started in September, growing progressively more severe. By Spring, however, the effects would be "dire," as 4 million children are already malnourished, Mr. Haider warned, voicing concern that the damage to their growth would be permanent if steady food assistance were not provided.